Kyler Murray

49ers using Richie James to imitate, plan for Ravens' Lamar Jackson

49ers using Richie James to imitate, plan for Ravens' Lamar Jackson

SANTA CLARA -- Just a few weeks ago, cornerback Richard Sherman spilled the beans that 49ers backup quarterback C.J. Beathard strained his back while imitating Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray on the scout team prior to their game against Arizona. 

As the 49ers prepare to face Lamar Jackson, the team went a different direction and will use wide receiver Richie James to play the role of the dynamic Ravens quarterback. Even though James is a leftie and Jackson is not, the receiver’s mobility will be effective in imitating the MVP candidate. 

“Taking me back to my old days,” James told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I guess that’s what they are trying to do. I’m trying to figure it out now as we speak. About to take some snaps right now.”  

James has been the primary returner this season, averaging 7.9 yards per punt return and 22.9 yards for each kick return. That shiftiness makes him a great candidate to imitate Jackson, but James knows that those are big shoes to fill. 

“Just [going to] be myself,” James said. “He’s a one-of-a-kind, so you can only be yourself. I’m already a dynamic player, so just the more dynamic I can be.”  

Jackson is quite a bit larger than James, who is nearly 30 pounds lighter and five inches shorter than the Baltimore signal-caller. Still, the wideout’s history will serve him well as he takes on his new role for the week. 

"I was 80-percent run and 20-percent pass,” James said of his high school quarterback days. “It’s going to work for today because that’s kind of what they do now. They run a lot. So I’m expecting to run, continue to run. It’s going to be interesting." 

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Jimmy Garoppolo thought the choice was appropriate -- as long as James can get the ball out. 

“We’ll see how he can throw,” Garoppolo said with a smile. “I know Richie is athletic as can be. I think he’s a leftie, so we’ll see how he can throw it today.”

Nick Bosa, 49ers focused on fixing zone-read issues vs. Lamar Jackson

Nick Bosa, 49ers focused on fixing zone-read issues vs. Lamar Jackson

Aaron Rodgers is no statue, but he provided a decidedly different challenge to what the 49ers faced the previous three games.

After all, the 49ers faced a young, explosive run-pass threat with Arizona rookie quarterback Kyler Murray in Weeks 9 and 11. Between two doses of Murray, the 49ers went up against Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.

The 49ers’ defensive line teed off against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, dropping Rodgers for five sacks in San Francisco’s 37-8 victory at Levi’s Stadium.

“His jersey is nice and saggy, too, so you can grab onto it,” said 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, who had one sack and another nullified by penalty. “It’s just completely different. Sometimes it caught me off guard how he was sitting back there. But it’s back to Lamar Jackson this week, though.”

Jackson is having a phenomenal season in his first full year as the Baltimore Ravens’ starter. He has thrown 24 touchdowns with just five interceptions. His passer rating is 111.4. He has been sacked 20 times in 11 games.

He also leads the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack with 876 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. And when he is not keeping the ball himself and averaging 7.1 yards per rushing attempt, he is handing off to Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, who average 5.2 yards apiece.

[RELATED: Why Ravens QB Jackson will be 49ers' toughest test of 2019]

“We definitely went through dealing with the zone read a few times, and it hasn’t gone great for us, so we’ve learned,” Bosa said. “Hopefully we can correct it and be ready this week.”

In two games against the Cardinals, the 49ers surrendered 177 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries to running back Kenyan Drake, while Murray rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts.

The Seahawks beat the 49ers, 27-24, in overtime on Nov. 11, with Wilson gaining 53 yards rushing on six attempts and throwing for 232 yards.

Why Ravens QB Lamar Jackson will be toughest challenge 49ers encounter

Why Ravens QB Lamar Jackson will be toughest challenge 49ers encounter

The 49ers have faced several tough challenges throughout their 10-1 start to the season, and have passed with flying colors nearly every single time. But next week, they'll face their most formidable challenge yet -- and possibly all season long -- in Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

If you watched Baltimore's beatdown of the Rams on Monday night, you don't need an explanation as to why. But for those of you that saw the blowout score and chose not to tune in -- and have been living under a rock for the last few months -- it doesn't take long to explain why Jackson poses such a unique threat.

He came into the game against Los Angeles on pace for the most single-season rushing yards ever by a quarterback, and then proceeded to gash the Rams for 95 yards on eight rushing attempts, falling just shy of his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season.

But that's not where he did the vast majority of his damage. As good as Jackson was with his legs, he was even more prolific with his arm, completing 15-of-20 pass attempts for five touchdowns and a 139.4 passer rating. That made him the youngest player in NFL history with multiple games with five touchdown passes in the same season. Sure, he only had 169 yards passing against the Rams, but that becomes less of a concern when a team can rush for 285 yards, as the Ravens did Monday night.

That wasn't an anomaly, either. Baltimore came into Monday night averaging 203.1 rushing yards per game. The 49ers rank second in the league with an average of 145.6. Yes, Jackson is a big part of that, but running backs Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards form one of the best tandems in the NFL.

And therein lies the problem for San Francisco. In what is expected to be a bad weather game in Baltimore on Sunday, the 49ers rightfully will focus on stopping the Ravens' rushing attack. But Jackson's dual-threat ability might be impossible to account for, and the 49ers haven't exactly had their best performances this season against mobile quarterbacks.

San Francisco looked most vulnerable in Weeks 9-11, and that's not a coincidence. The 49ers faced Arizona's Kyler Murray twice and Seattle's Russell Wilson once over that span, and they're probably the two most dynamic QBs in the league -- outside of Jackson. The Seahawks beat San Francisco, and the Cardinals nearly did the same ... twice. Clearly, Seattle is a good, possibly great team. But right now, if the 49ers aren't the best team in the NFL, most would say the Ravens are.

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The Niners have one of the two best defenses in the league, and their 44 sacks are more than any other team. They feast on immobile QBs, and while you wouldn't call Aaron Rodgers immobile, San Francisco just limited the future Hall of Famer to arguably the worst performance of his career.

Even when the 49ers were leading 10-0 over Green Bay, Jimmy Garoppolo got on his team to pile on more points, knowing 10 wouldn't be enough to beat Rodgers.

Actually, it was, as San Francisco coasted to a 37-8 home win.

It won't be enough to beat Jackson and the Ravens -- who lead the league with an average of 35.1 points per game -- on the road Sunday. Not even close.